The Disabled Surfers Association (DSA) was established in Sydney in 1986 by surfer Gary Blaschke. After a motorcycle accident caused the loss of his knee cap, requiring extensive rehabilitation, Gary was told he may never surf again. This led him to form a support group, with the aim of helping injured surfers like himself get back into the water.
Gary’s vision quickly extended to cater for people of all ages and disabilities whether they were surfers or not. The DSA is now a registered Public Benevolent Institution with branches operating in fifteen locations around Australia and also New Zealand.
University of Newcastle Nursing lecturer Kerry Hoffman is one of the volunteers in the Central Coast DSA branch which operates at Towoon Bay and Terrigal Beach. A keen surfer, Kerry got involved by chance.
“I saw an advertisement for the Central Coast Surfing for the Disabled day,” says Kerry “so I went along to see if I could help.”
Kerry soon signed up for the volunteer training and now participates in up to four events a year.
“The first time you see someone catch a wave is amazing,” she says. “Many of the surfers aren’t able to communicate how much they are enjoying it, but their body language gives them away. It is great fun and immensely rewarding. Everyone is smiling by the end of the day.”
No disability can prevent surfers from enjoying the water and Kerry has even taken quadriplegics into the waves.
“One memorable time was when I took a father into the water with his son. The father had been injured in an accident and lost the use of his arms and legs. I could see how difficult it was to even get down onto the sand and how much it meant to him to be in the water again with his little boy.”
Safety is the prime emphasis of the DSA, which utilises a colour coding system for all participants, carers and helpers to ensure the organisers know what the ‘state of play’ is at any one time. There is a high helper-to-participant ratio, and surfing only takes place in broken waves and in waist deep water.
“The disabled surfers might initially lack confidence in the water but we are able to go on the board with them or push them onto a wave,” says Kerry.
Kerry’s nursing skills are sometimes called upon when lifting surfers on to boards or managing a ventilator in the water, but the best skill she brings is a love for the ocean.
“It’s great to be able to share the ocean with people who would otherwise miss out. Most volunteers recognise that value and keep coming back,” she says. “It’s immensely rewarding.”
The DSA is surfing’s only registered charity dedicated to the disabled. This group of volunteers relies on the support of its members and the community to continue.